Story and photo by John Neporadny Jr.
A lively minnow is hard to beat when crappie get a craving for the real deal.
Keeping minnows lively is always a challenge for crappie anglers whether they are fishing for cash or just their next meal. Fortunately boat companies and fishing tackle manufacturers have devised several bait storage systems that insure minnows stay alive all day long even in the sweltering heat of summer.
Some boat manufacturers such as G-3 Boats have built-in baitwells on certain boat models. The Eagle Talon 17 PFX has a 10-gallon bow livewell featuring a quick access bait bucket. The Eagle 176 Vinyl features a large bow livewell with a separate lift-out bait box that allows anglers to drain out the water and easily take minnows out of the box.
The 1966, 1860 and 1756 series of G-3 Gator Tough johnboats are equipped with front livewells that can store bait containers. Stephen Matt, G-3 public relations specialist, notes many of these boats come with Lindy Bait Tamers, a mesh bait bag that easily fits inside livewells to keep minnows separated from the catch of the day.
Texas pro Wally Marshall fishes out of a Ranger 521C bass boat that has one stern divided livewell so he keeps his minnows in a Frabill Flow Troll Bucket that he places in one side of the livewell and keeps his catch on the other side. Marshall relies on livewell oxygenators and ice contained in a gallon milk jug to keep his minnows lively throughout the day.
Keeping a handful of minnows in a small coffee container on the front deck helps Marshall avoid constant trips to the rear livewell when he needs to bait his hooks. Ranger’s Tournament RT 178C and Tournament RT 188C aluminum boats both feature an aerated livewell/baitwell on the front deck that allows crappie anglers to stay close to their minnows while spider rigging.
A variety of portable bait containers are available for crappie anglers who prefer keeping their minnows close at hand. Illinois guide and Crappiemasters pro Kyle Schoenherr favors a 30-quart Engel Live Bait Cooler for keeping his minnows healthier and more energetic. “It’s the only cooler I know of that is designed for bait,” he says. The cooler comes with a battery-powered aerator pump but Schoenherr replaces the pump with his own oxygen system that he bought from an online medical supply company.
With his oxygen system and the ample water volume of the Engel cooler, Schoenherr and his tournament partner, Rodney Neuhaus, can keep a large load of minnows lively throughout a competition day. “A lot of times we will get 8 to 10 pounds of minnows to get exactly the size we want for the tournament,” Schoenherr says.
The Crappiemasters pro adjusts the setting on his oxygen tank according to the amount of minnows in his Engel cooler. “Normally we will keep it down to 1/32 of a liter per minute,” Schoenherr says. “If I have 8 pounds of minnows for a tournament I will pump my setting up to just the second to lowest setting (1/16th).”
Schoenherr keeps his minnows lively by adding cooled lake water to his Engel cooler. “We use a separate cooler and have it filled with a third of ice (frozen lake water) and two thirds lake water,” says Schoenherr, who adds the water to the bait cooler in the morning. He monitors the water temperature with a digital thermometer to make sure the water doesn’t get cold enough to shock the bait.
Frabill and Marine Metal Products offer a wide array of aerators and bait storage containers for keeping a couple of dozen minnows or pounds of minnows lively.
A great solution for recreational anglers is the Frabill 14042 Min-O-Life Personal Baitstation, according to Ryan Kleckner, Plano vice president of engineering. The insulated square container has an 8-quart capacity, lift-out net liner (eliminating the need for a minnow dip net) and a portable battery-powered aerator. “I have seen as many as five or six dozen minnows stay alive in there,” Kleckner says.
Tournament anglers who need to store pounds of minnows for multiple days can use the Frabill 14691 Aqualife Bait Station, a 6-gallon insulated pail with a battery-powered aerator (two D-cells or 12-volt adapter) built into the lid. For overnight or long-term bait storage, the container also features a 120-volt adapter port.
Kleckner also recommends a couple of aerators for anglers who prefer using their own minnow container. For tournament anglers needing to store high quantities of minnows, Frabill offers the 14371 Aqua-Life Cooler Conversion Kit, an advanced aeration system that runs on two D batteries or has adaptors for both 12- and 110-volt power.
Marine Metal Products has devised aerators for more than 40 years and has perfected several aeration systems for keeping minnows frisky in any situation. The Bubbles Air Pump can run nearly 100 hours on two D batteries and aerates up to 8 gallons of water, according to Clark Lea Jr, president of Marine Metal Products. Lea notes his company offers several aeration systems crappie anglers can hook up to their 12-volt batteries and aerate a livewell or cooler in their boats.
For recreational anglers who use smaller numbers of minnows, Lea suggests storing their bait in the Cool Bubbles insulated livewells. Equipped with battery-operated air pumps, these insulated foam or Styrofoam buckets range in capacity from 8 quarts to 5 gallons.
Tournament anglers can store vast amounts of minnows in a cooler aerated by the Power Bubbles 12-volt Air Pump. Lea claims the pump draws a very low current (only 4/10ths of an amp) and can aerate up to 35 gallons of water.
Large numbers of minnows also stay fresh and lively in the company’s original Bait Saver Livewells. These buckets range in capacity from 5 to 20 gallons and feature a 12-volt Bait Saver aerator that produces 99.5 percent saturation of dissolved oxygen.
Keeping minnows alive throughout a full day of fishing has become a lot easier now thanks to the latest innovations from boat companies and fishing equipment manufacturers.